The Australian publishing industry is very small. The children’s publishing industry is even smaller. If you hang around for any length of time you’re bound to see the same people pop up time and again at functions, festivals, conferences and so on.
So it’s a really good idea to get to know the players in the industry. Not just for what they can offer you, but for what you can offer them. Sooner or later there may be a way for you to help someone out or to work with them in one capacity or another.
For example, you may be an author and you have a picture book picked up by a publisher who then selects an illustrator to work on your project. If you already know that illustrator, it makes the whole book creation process that much more enjoyable and open in terms of communication flow.
Sometimes, if you already know an illustrator and are familiar with their work (ie you totally, totally love their style and have always dreamed of having your story illustrated by said illustrator) then you might even be able to suggest that illustrator friend or colleague to your publisher.
While I’d always recommend that you approach networking with a relaxed style and to never be militant or too focused about the whole thing, there are some basic rules that you should be aware of.
For instance, when you’re networking don’t even mention the word ‘networking’! Don’t be so blunt.
People don’t want to know that you’re only talking to them because you think it’s a good idea or because you believe it might sell books. People in our industry actually want to get to know others. They are usually genuinely interested in you and your project. Be polite, never forceful, be confident and friendly and make sure you get to know the other person by listening to what they have to say.
Sometimes being a good listener is the best skill you can have as a networker and a friend. So don’t ramble on for hours and hours about yourself without showing any interest in the other person.
With Georgie Donaghey, author, owner of Creative Kids Tales and Greenleaf Press Talent Team member. George was a chairperson and guest speaker for me when I directed the NSW Writers' Centre Kids & YA Festival. I've also had the pleasure of being featured on the CKT Website.
If you’re looking to connect with a more senior or influential member of the industry, whether they’re an author, award-winning illustrator or a publisher, make sure you know a little bit about the person before you approach them. It doesn’t have to be a cold, calculated approach that you take, but knowing something about the person’s background will show that you care and are genuine.
Otherwise, what do you talk to them about? And how do you show them that you’re actually interested in getting to know them for who they are, not just what they can offer you?
You can approach people at any face-to-face, real live event. Most people are more than happy to talk to anyone – especially if you start asking them questions about themselves, their books, their artwork or their careers. A compliment doesn’t hurt to break the ice, but you don’t need to be a sycophant. Calm. Cool. Confident. Right?
You can also approach people via email or you can reach out to them through social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
All of these forms of social networking have worked for me in the past AND I’ve been contacted by many, many people through social media and emails. It’s okay to connect on Facebook even if you haven’t met a person before. That’s part of what social media is designed for.
You will find that most authors and illustrators are very accessible and friendly.
And here’s a little secret – in our industry people SHARE.
Some of the greatest mentors and sharers who I’ve had the pleasure and joy to be helped along by are: Di Bates, Susanne Gervay, Belinda Murrell, Jan Latta, Libby Gleeson, Georgie Donaghey, Jackie Hosking and Libby-Jane Charleston.
These people have all helped me in some way over the years and assisted in educating me as an author and shaping my career. There are plenty of people out there who will happily do the same for you. Sometimes, all it takes is for you to reach out them in a polite and positive way.
Once you’ve been in the industry for a while, you will also learn another important truth: we are all the same.
With Dimity Powell and Jenny Stubbs.
Dimity is an author like me, a Greenleaf Press Talent Team member and is about to have her first picture book published with EK Books. Jenny Stubbs is a teacher-librarian who volunteers endless hours of her time work tirelessly to promote authors, illustrators and children's literature in QLD.
No matter how long we’ve been in the game, where we come from, how many books we’ve had published or how many school visits we’ve done – we all feel the same passion for and doubts about our writing and we’ve all experienced similar of highs and lows.
That’s why the camaraderie exists – because we are all in this together.
You can network in an ad hoc way, getting out and about whenever there’s an event. Or you may decide to join a specific network to attend regular meetings. Membership to these types of networks usually costs money, so be aware that you will have to invest in this side of your ‘author business’.
If you do join a network, make sure you regularly attend meetings. Make sure you get to know the people in your network. Not just for what you can learn, or take from them, but for what you can give them.
Networking is a two-way street. It takes time to get to know someone – I don’t believe for one moment that you can instantly be best friends with someone – but with time and repetition, you can build firm friendships and share your journey with others who will grow to care for you and vice versa.
With one of my great author friends, Oliver Phommovanh. Oliver and I met through a writer's group I was running at the NSW Writers' Centre about nine years ago when we were both unpublished.